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But what is the question?

Metalhead, dreamer, animal lover

Metalhead, dreamer, animal lover

After more than a year of searching for the perfect name for my blog (which explains the previous name, “…”), I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally found The One. Looks like I was looking at answers in the wrong place, for it was the question that mattered more.

The first step to finding an answer is asking the right question.

Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? Why? Why not? These are questions that have brought profound changes into many lives.

We blog because we crave for readers to connect with us through our writings, and to accomplish that, we put in a little of ourselves into every post, every article, like some kind of intellectual striptease. This blog is no different. More eloquent in writing and a self-styled misfit otherwise, I like to look deep into life’s little things and find more reasons to appreciate them; this blog helps me find more people to celebrate them with. Rolling this out on April fool’s day is perfect too, for I believe nothing should be taken too seriously 🙂

Thanks for stopping by, Hope to see you here again.

PS: I’m still mustering up the guts to change my URL and risk losing my modest rankings/followers. One step at a time, I think, but it’s very tempting. If you did so successfully, please give me a pep talk!

The Harper Collins short story contest fiasco

About 240 of us finalists are licking our wounds after the unexpected end to the ‘get published’ contest. For those who don’t know about the contest, the short story contest was organized by Indiblogger, the popular Indian blogging directory, in collaboration with Harper Collins. After putting up with constant changes to the submission guidelines, and waiting long beyond announcement dates for results, the contest finally ended in a fiasco for the finalists. Of the promised 50 winners, Harper Collins selected only 10 to be published in the compilation book, and didn’t bother announcing the changes to the participants.

I entered into two contests this year. The first was the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) for my novel, and the Get Published (GP) contest for my short story. The two experiences were like chalk and cheese.

  • The ABNA had clear rules and announcement deadlines that remained unchanged throughout the contest, unlike the GP whose rules changed every time someone at Harper Collins sneezed. GP folks never cared to meet their own announcement deadlines, either. And we’re talking 10,000 ABNA entries v/s 500 odd GP entries.
  • My book went till the top 500 in my category, but I received 2 pages of feedback when it didn’t qualify for the next round of ABNA. The feedback gave me valuable insights on the real category of my book, its strengths and weaknesses. The judges honestly considered every entry. Do I need to mention again the careless way the GP judges changed the final list from 50 to 10 at the last minute, without any announcements?
  • Contract—the most important thing in the publishing industry, and defined meticulously in ABNA. Where was it in the GP contest? What about royalties, and copyright? A lot of us probably did wonder about it, but then we trusted Harper Collins’ reputation and submitted our stories anyway. Although they didn’t bother disclosing their contract, they would come after us with bloodhounds if we violated the contract, wouldn’t they?

I have one word for the way GP was executed—Unprofessional.

I wonder, would this have happened in another country? If results were bungled like this elsewhere, Harper Collins would be buried under hundreds of lawsuits. Not to mention the hit its reputation would take.

The least the GP coordinators could have done was update the participants, stating the reasons for the drastic changes in the results. After the initial outrage, we’d make peace because this is the first such contest they’re hosting, and teething troubles are to be expected. But instead they decided to take the easy, sneaky way out and quietly changed the rules, quietly announced the results and shut off communication.

This was a great opportunity, and Harper Collins had the opportunity to tap into young, modern and eloquent talent. And what did they end up doing? They probably lost 400 odd entries for their next contest, assuming that 80% of us will think twice before we submit our creation to another contest run by them. A lot of us won’t bother wasting our time and energy again at all.

Indiblogger did a great job. The people who coordinated the contest did a great job. But ultimately, they were all powerless since there was no contract holding Harper Collins to their word, and Harper Collins probably called all the shots. At the end of the day, it was a symphony of apes.

My hearty congratulations to the winners, your entries were awesome and deserved to win. And although I wish I’d made it to the top 10 too, I think I’m still in pretty good standing. Why?

  • The way GP was executed doesn’t inspire my confidence in the next steps hereafter and the contract. But now I am not contractually bound, which means I can enter my story into more contests, self-publish it or add it to my own collection of short stories for publishing. My story is still mine, and now I can get published on my own terms.
  • The final announcement surprised everyone by hinting that the winners will have to make changes to their story. Why weren’t participants informed before? I’d specifically asked that question too. They are hazy on what changes will have to be made. Can you imagine having to expand a 4000 word short story into 20,000 words? What if they ask the authors to rework so-called objectionable content and situations? It’s unfair, and I sincerely hope the winners don’t have to go through that.
  • Finally, I’m glad that I got a validation for my short story skills. I wouldn’t have ever tried my hand at it otherwise. Now that I have, there is a whole world of opportunity in front of me. And through the process I also found an awesome community of bloggers, who make up my intellectual family.

So dear Indi-family, pick up your pieces and charge on. You know you’re good, so don’t let one dreadfully organized contest break you.

Finally, don’t forget to delete your entries as soon as you know there is no way the results are changing. And winners, please check your contract before signing anything.

I know who you copied last summer

So you’re on your 200th blog post of the year. You need to update your blog every other day because that’s the expectations you’ve set with your readers, but you’re running out of ideas. Or maybe while researching for your latest idea, you came across this interesting article. So you ‘borrow’ a few ideas, reword them, add your own spin and use them in your blog post. After all, it’s all about the storytelling and a different point of view, right?

Wrong. Plagiarism is stealing. Writers reveal themselves to the world through their writings, so plagiarism isn’t like parading around in stolen shoes… it’s like pretending to be someone else. It’s an intellectual identity theft.

In my short blogging experience, I have seen bloggers brazenly lift off entire sections from popular blogs like The grammar girl, use key ideas from a reasonably well-known book and steal original word-coinage without giving credit. Why is plagiarism more prevalent in blogging than other forms of publishing like books and white papers?

  • Bloggers have a smaller and more niche base than mainstream authors.  The internet is a huge smoke-screen; they think the original author will never find their blog. Heck, you can’t even find your own blog!
  • Bloggers self-proof and self-publish, which means that they miss out on the due diligence an author goes through with editors, agents and publishing houses before publishing, who guide them on when to cite and when to redo entire sections of their work.
  • Bloggers have a more volatile reader base, which means that they are under pressure to write more often or be forgotten. So bloggers write more, both in volume and frequency. It’s hard to stay original when you’re blogging three times a week, with or without a niche focus.

What constitutes plagiarism? I’m no expert, so please do your due diligence here. Don’t let the legalities scare you—just like stealing that extra cookie, writing something that’s not yours will give you a guilty conscience. Listen to it, it might just save you from a lawsuit and/or embarrassment many years from now, when an ancient, almost-original work can end your writing days. And if you think lawsuits only happen to bestselling authors and mainstream bloggers, think again. What if you become a popular blogger five years from now? What will happen to your credibility?

So how do you stay current, stay trendy and still stay original? I’m still fairly new to the blogging world, but I also write privately apart from blogging and only post the best ones onto my blog. I stay fresh by following the plan I laid out when I started blogging, addressed to the future myself, for the time when I finally do reach my 200th blog. Here’s the plan, hope it helps someone, and please feel free to share your thoughts on it, as experience always beats the best educated guess!

  • Dear me, the best answer is the simplest. Be yourself. Write what you can talk about intelligently. I believe that the main goal of blogging is to add value to my readers, and value can either be educational or something that makes them smile.
  • If you’re a blogger who’s categorized in the ‘personal’ or ‘creative’ sections, yay for you! You have endless possibilities for the next 42 million blog posts you may write. In fact, your biggest enemy isn’t inspiration, it’s boring your readers to death. Trust me, a blog a day keeps the reader away! So go beyond how your cat’s meow is a symphony and think harder. Don’t just write… create.
  • Sometimes, having a niche can also mean you can write yourself into a dead-end. Some niches are more flexible than others—finance, photography, current events have infinite possibilities. Computer skills and language skills are very informative but what will you do 5 years and 400 blog posts from now? If you’re a niche blogger, you need to get creative. Think ahead. Stay current. Be willing to experiment and diversify. Your blog probably has loyal readers. Don’t let them down.
  • Take the pressure off. Choose quality over quantity. How about writing a kickass post twice a week instead of five hastily written ones?  Blog at the speed of (a good) thought, and allow for the time it takes to shape that thought into something worth remembering. (Note: As a newbie, I now get away with blogging twice a month or less, but if and when my reader base grows, I plan to keep a buffer of at least one or two blogs so I can create without the pressures of missing self-appointed deadlines. In fact, I have a buffer right now, too. It buffers for my laziness.)
  • Lastly, forget everything I said and do what you best—write, and write honestly. There’s always a chance that someone somewhere WILL have written about this before, but it’s unlikely that your views will be exactly the same. But if you write in good faith and do your reasonable bit to stay original, chances are, you’ll be lawsuit-free. And the best part? Your readers will appreciate you for it.

I hope to fine tune the plan as I go along and find my blogging personality, but as of now, I continue to double check with Google every time I coin a new word or use a name for my characters, just in case!

Some pointers for writing your short story for the ‘get published’ contest

A lot of us are in the process of writing or refining our short story for the ‘get published’ contest. I’ve tried to round up a few pointers I followed while writing my story so it’ll help you present your story better.

I’m by no means an expert. In fact, I’m a publishing virgin. Last year, I proudly finished my first novel and then started research on how to get it ready for publishing. Turns out I had to put in three more months of mind-numbing work to get it in a remotely decent state. Charging on in my creative flow, I had flouted every possible rule. I wished someone had told me these little things before, for it’s not easy to change things once they’re written down already.

It’s good karma to share knowledge, so here is a quick cheatsheet that’ll spare you the trouble of laborious research.

CAVEAT: I live in the US and most books I’ve used to build this knowledge have been published in the US, so I hope this is also relevant in India. My best guess is that there may be some minor differences in punctuations. In any case, I don’t have the energy to follow two different sets of rules, so I’ve followed these for my short story. I’d rather be consistent with one system than be confused.

  • Point of view: Since this is a short story, I’m guessing you only have 2-3 characters. Try to write all scenes from one character’s point of view. If you have more than one character thinking aloud in the story, make sure they have a section break in between so it doesn’t confuse readers.
  • Punctuation in conversations: This can be really confusing, but once you get it right, you’ll never mess up again. I’ll explain this with examples as I really don’t like getting technical. If I get confused, I just pick up a book that has a lot of conversations and follow the punctuations it has used, and I strongly suggest that you do, too.
    1. “I hate you,” she screamed. Notice how the sentence ends with a comma inside the quotation marks and the s in ‘she’ is small. There is also a space between the closing (“) and the next word.
    2. Or you could also write: She screamed, “I hate you.” Notice the space between the comma and the opening (“).
    3. Characters always start their sentences with a capital letter: She screamed, “You’re a monster!”
    4. Precede names with a comma: “I hate you, Amit.”
    5. If the character is cut off, use a dash. No need for period in the end: “I hate yo—”
    6. If the character trails off without finishing her thought, use the (…): “I remember you from… oh my God, it’s you!” There are many norms for spacing the (…), use one and be consistent. I use (word)…(space)(next word).
    7. If the character quotes someone else, use single quotation marks: “You told me ‘I hate you’.” See how the period separates the two closing quotation marks?
    8. Try not to use multiple (!!!) or (?!) in the sentences, it sounds childish. Same goes for use of caps lock and bold. Use words to convey strong emotions, not exclamation marks or capital letters.
    9. If the character speaks for more than one paragraph, do not close quotation marks in the end of the first paragraph. Start the next paragraph with (“) and then follow regular rules of punctuation.

“I thought I did, but I was wrong.

“I then realized that…”

  • General formatting:
    1. Use Courier or Times New Roman 12 point font. The Indiblogger submission link is a little weird and doesn’t recognize line spacing or paragraph indents, so you can skip the formatting normally followed for manuscripts, but use these easily readable fonts.
    2. Use –*– between sections
  • Grammar and spelling: Run a spelling and grammar check, but do your due diligence. And show it to someone else so they can point out cumbersome sentence structures. Grammar can seem trivial, but it helps you strike a good first impression as a capable writer, and also helps you get your message across without confusing your readers. A friend of mine has helped me make my story so much more readable by breaking down complex sentences and correcting minor stuff like ‘a’ and ‘the’, ‘either’ and ‘both’ and similar things.
  • Redo, redo, redo: This is the magic formula which makes your story go from great to brilliant. Identify your target market, get a few of them to read your story and come back to you with reviews/questions/objections. Listen to all of them carefully, but remember that it is your story, and you can’t make everyone happy.

I hope this helps, my fellow aspiring authors. I’m open to suggestions/corrections, so please feel free to add to this article!

Good luck!

Typo negative

We are the generation that has seen it all. We spooled stuck cassettes with pencils, switched to shiny round CDs and then reached new levels of coolness with iPods. We started writing with wooden pencils that needed sharpening every hundred words, switched to the more advanced ‘pen-tils’ or mechanical pencils and now scramble to find a single pen in the house when the rare occasion demands that something be written down. My dad would flip if he saw me writing on the back of receipts or on my bare hands with my lip-liner.

However, we’ve changed with the times, and the times have been merciful to us. No longer do we lose our precious music collection because the tape caught fungus or the dog scratched the CD. Of course, the iPod is treacherous too and even more so—ask me how lethal the combination of butterfingers and water can be to your decades old music collection. Not to mention the shortcuts that make us stupid and lazy. No longer do we listen to the entire tape just to get to our favorite song. And no longer do we bother to spell correctly anymore, because spell-checking software covers up for abysmally bad spellings.

Typos are my biggest pet peeves. If you’re someone who mixes lose with loose, muddles their and they’re and there and bungles to and too, I secretly want to take you back to those dreaded primary school classrooms and make you write their spellings 500 times on the blackboard, a fool’s cap over your head. Dyslexia arising from complacency gets none of my sympathy. If you didn’t learn your spellings and their contexts right, the least you can do is run spell check. Let’s not even go into grammatical errors.

But I’ll still be your friend, because I have my stumbling blocks too, and I hide behind MS word’s brilliant auto-correct too. My tripping points?

–      Occasion or occasion or occasion? (See, MS word auto-corrected all of them. How difficult was that?)

–      Professor

–      Tomorrow (2ms? 1r?)

–      Opportunity (it’s oppo, not oppu)

–      Weird (Write 500 times, my frIEnds are not wEIrd)

–      Erase (no Z in American English? I didn’t realize that)

Spell-check’s great, but there’s no substitute for knowing your stuff, right? And even that’s not enough sometimes. This friend once told me I’m a schizophrenic when he wanted to compliment me for being a quiet wild-child. Well, he’s French, he’s forgiven—mostly because he at least spelled it right. How about hearing your favorite song playing in the background on your first date and blurting out, “oh, I love U2!” Wish they had a babelfish to contextually auto-correct oral conversations.

Digressions apart, I write a bit and read a lot, and MS Word is my loyal helper. But as we have all discovered to much chagrin one time or the other, do we really trust it? Believe me, a world without MS word would be as much torture to me as a library full of crosswords and no pencils. But just like me, Ms Word is imperfect too. Sometimes she PMSes and complains incessantly (Fragment—consider revising! Comma use! Adjective use!). Sometimes she’s too lenient (grey v/s gray, leant v/s leaned) and you get your spelling culturally wrong, even with the American Dictionary turned on. Sometimes you wonder if she skipped English classes, messing up her its and it’s, who and whom and my most hated you’re and your. I hate it when I can’t get a synonym for idiot, and how crap gets corrected to craps. Wha…? Ms Word, you’re too prim, Siri’s cooler!

The only thing that annoys the craps out of me more is my now drowned iPhone’s auto-correct, which has been much thrashed already.

The bright side? Hey, at least the age of high-speed texting on the Nokia 1100’s is over. Thank you QWERTY for helping me think less harder to interpret my messages.

BFN. CU, U R gr8! ❤ U all!

LOL.

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